A strange, at times dramatic, at times seriously tedious day started yesterday morning at 7 a.m. Fearful of being shunted off to watch closed-circuit TV, I made my way to Room 1241 some 90 minutes before the scheduled start. Finding the doors locked, I proceeded to rattle them in frustration. Peering through a glass aperture, I then spied a gowned figure working alone at the dais behind a computer console. On hearing the disturbance, her eyes shot up and, via a furrowed brow, Judge Amy St. Eve sent me beetling off in search of a coffee to kill time.
The trial day itself got off to a roaring start with the arrival of the first witness: the spectacularly self-satisfied John O’Sullivan, former editor of the National Review, associate editor of the Times of London and editorial consultant to Hollinger International. There to impeach testimony that Barbara Amiel’s birthday party was anything other than in his words “a business event masquerading as a social occasion,” O’Sullivan treated the assembled to a sort of rolling seminar on just about anything that crossed his mind. These aperçus ranged from Conrad Black’s efforts to salvage what he described as “important magazines…and by important I mean not just good but important to the circulation of ideas, a matter about which I care rather a lot…” to his views on Henry Kissinger’s taste for gourmet food, to why he thought Donald Trump sat at Lady Black’s right hand at her birthday party—“at such occasions this is a place of honour.” In response, prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer objected, begging the judge to “put an end to this narrative.” Eddie Greenspan was then forced to admonish his own witness to “please just answer the question as posed.” In the end, having taken a serious pasting on cross-examination, O’Sullivan exited the scene giving off the air of a man who’d just had an unpleasant meeting with his bank manager.
The day’s strangest moment came when Edward Genson read an e-mailed death threat aimed at Conrad Black. “By the way,” he recited in a broad Chicago accent, “if anyone knows how to get a message to Conrad Black, I want to tell him this prophet of God is after him and I am going to get him.” The e-mail carried on in this creepily apocalyptic vein before Genson concluded, “signed Eric Sussman, er, I mean, Brent Herbert.” Genson’s mischief-making stilled the air for a moment, before the room erupted in loud guffaws. Even the aggrieved party shook his head sheepishly. Of course, the note was entered into evidence to a purpose, suggesting as it did the possibility that Black’s use of the corporate jet was warranted given concerns for his security.
Later in the day, Genson made a show of leaking the contents of the e-mail to Canadian journalists so that it could be copied word for word. Genson also insisted that the physical document be returned to him: “I don’t want to see that on a damn screen or I’ll get in trouble with the judge.” Such is the calculus of playing footsie with the press.
Arriving just before lunch was the day’s main attraction: the avuncular expert witness for the defence, Alan Funk. In establishing Funk’s credentials as an expert in the field of accounting fraud, Mark Kipnis’ lawyer, Michael Schwarz, cited the fact that he was a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy, “otherwise known as the Bankruptcy Hall of Fame.” Funk’s testimony throughout the afternoon was a variation on a single theme. In his expert opinion, based on his review of 400,000 pages of documents furnished by KPMG (for which he was paid a princely sum of $425 an hour), Hollinger’s practices as regards the non-competes were inconsistent with fraud. For the moment, Funk’s testimony puts a rather large hole at the centre of the government’s case. Still, Jeffrey Cramer’s cross-examination was barely underway when St. Eve called an end to the day’s hostilities, and the prosecutor looked loaded for bear.